“Why is it so hard to commit to DC schools?” by Elizabeth Nicoletti

Photo by PoPville flickr user DoctorJ.Bass

Elizabeth Nicoletti is a 12th and V Street homeowner and Garrison parent.

Why is it so hard to commit to DC schools?

The green text bubble lit up on my iPhone, and I could see the words from across my kitchen counter, “Exciting news! We bought a new house!” The text came from close friends who live on our block. Our kids are similar ages, we all go to the local park regularly, and twice a year we co-organize neighborhood events. However, their oldest is entering Pre-K, and they cannot commit to the local school.

The local school is Garrison Elementary School. I decided to send my son to Garrison for numerous reasons – its high-quality teachers, vicinity, curriculum and diversity. Watching my son thrive in Garrison’s rich cultural bastion confirms our decision. At three years old, he is writing, reading and dancing ballet and hip-hop alongside his bright and eager classmates. However I am constantly confronting shortcomings with the school’s structure. A reoccurring mouse infestation, a faulty heating and cooling system and acres of unusable athletic fields are distracting students and teachers from reaching their full potential. And they continue to weigh on parents’ conscience about whether or not this is the best setting for long-term success.

In 2010, DC Public Schools central office communicated a Garrison modernization for 2014. When that never happened, Mayor Bowser, as Mayor Gray had done before her, reprogrammed Garrison’s modernization money and promised it would make Garrison whole in the 2016 budget cycle, which she did. In May 2015, an amendment eliminated $20 million from that modernization. The school was left with only $20 million which the Department of General Services had also advised was insufficient for even a partial modernization.

There are many reasons why these delays and broken promises are not okay. The Mayor herself highlighted the importance of improving the school modernization program. She prefers to “fully renovate” schools rather than doing partial or “phased” modernizations, which she herself described as “ineffective.”

Twenty million dollars in the scheme of DC’s budget is a drop in the bucket. Modernizing Garrison is low-hanging fruit. Yet being “low-hanging fruit” seems precisely the counter-argument for this investment – and the reason Garrison is being held hostage by DC politics.

In 2012 when Garrison was slated for closure, it was kept open on the basis of “population increase.” Living three blocks away from Garrison, I am witnessing firsthand that population increase is alive and well. Not addressing modernization now is shortsighted from both a social equity and a fiscal policy perspective. The average house price in Garrison’s zip code has grown on average 3.5 percent annually since 2010, contributing significantly to DC’s tax base. The demand that keeps prices and revenues on the rise will continue only so long as schools are strong and the communities that support them stronger.

So many families stand to benefit from modern facilities to match the high-caliber tutelage of teachers and commitment of administrators. Fifty-four percent of students are on free or reduced lunch, 48 percent are considered at-risk, which means they live in shelters or far below the free lunch requirement, and 20 percent receive special education services – one of the highest percentages of all DC schools. Nearly one in five students receives support with limited English proficiency. And enrollment rates are on the rise.

However, the dilapidated structures, gated windows and lack of handicap accessibility are a few of the serious deficiencies distracting from learning and sense of community in the neighborhood. Which brings me back to my question – why is it so hard to commit to DC schools? The answer it seems is that DC fails to first commit to its families. If the city fails to commit to another elementary school, the families who have a choice will move away, and the families who don’t have a choice will be left with a substandard facility. Everyone loses.

102 Comment

  • Don’t most schools have these problems though? My sister used to teach in one of the wealthiest counties in the country, and her school similarly had aging infrastructure, unsafe or unusable facilities, and a shortage of supplies.

    • That doesn’t make it okay… There is no reason to have crumbling schools, especially where we spend so much per student.

      • I agree, but that doesn’t explain why families are moving to the suburbs.

        • HaileUnlikely

          There are a bazillion reasons why families are moving to the suburbs. This is probably at least a minor contributor for many of them, but probably not the main reason or the only reason for many of them.

          • And there are still people moving to the city (although yes there are lots of families moving to the suburbs). I read this last week and thought it was interesting: https://www.washingtonpost.com/classic-apps/far-from-the-city-far-from-recovery/2016/05/05/1cd274c2-12df-11e6-8967-7ac733c56f12_story.html

          • Interesting — thanks for the link, FPVR!

          • HaileUnlikely

            I wonder whether there is any decent data on the proportion of families leaving DC who move to DC suburbs as opposed to move far far away. (I doubt it – it certainly would not be easy to compile). If my wife and I have children, we would most likely either stay in our current home or else move out of the region altogether to be closer to extended family. It is not likely that we would move to DC suburbs – we could not afford to move to any of the suburbs with substantially better schools and lower crime.

          • Same here. I’ve lived in DC’s suburbs, and the quality of life is so poor that I would never do it again and certainly wouldn’t subject my family to it. I’d rather live in my hometown, where I don’t have to spend half the day sitting in traffic, and have my parents close by.

          • Lottery didn’t go well for us this year. There are only about half a dozen or so good charter schools. If your kid doesnt get into one of those, moving or private schools are the only option. We’re hoping next year goes a little better. We’re lucky my wife has been able to stay home the last few years. I hate the idea of her going back to work just for us to spend everything she makes on private school for the kids. I hate the idea of moving out to Loudoun or Prince William worse though… I honestly don’t know how people are staying in the city when their kids reach school age.

          • BrightwoodIan — so if yiyr kid doesn’t get inti one of those half dozen charters then moving or private is “the only option”? What a rediculous statement. Am I then a bad parent for sending my children to their local DCPS (EoTP, high poverty)?

          • Tui, Brightwoodian’s choices are not a commentary on yours. What works for your family may not work for theirs. We are doing DCPS for elementary, but certainly don’t think putting our kids in school at Cardozo is tenable for us. We will either have to move or do private. We probably can’t afford private, but I do feel lucky that we have the choice to move if we need to. Many families feel this way.

            I do think a lot of people make their education choices based on what the rumor mill is spinning which is unfortunate. Parents need to take the time to talk to school administrators and visit schools. Many of those in my demographic would previously have moved out of DC before elementary but now we’re staying at least through 4th or 5th.

    • Garrison has among the highest, if not THE highest, number of special needs students. A large number (48%?) of students come from either shelter or welfare dependent families. The school has NEVER been modernized since opening in the 60’s. I can assure you that no other school in DC has all of those issues.

      But Murch is getting $80M (including underground parking – $5M of which was cut but recently restored, because of course it was) to fully renovate.

      • I’ve always wondered this about Garrison: why is there such a large percentage of special needs or economically-disadvantage students? Looking at the boundary map it doesn’t seem like there is a lot of public or low-income housing in the catchment area. Is the OOB percentage really high, and why? I get that the physical plant is not great, and DCPS has kind of turned a blind eye to that or paid it a lot of lip service. You see nearby schools gaining some traction with the gentrification set (nearby Seaton seems to have caught on, and even Langley is getting a lot of PK3 and PK4 families from Boomingdale and Eckington, but I bet it wasn’t #1 on anybody’s lottery list …) Garrison seems like it could be in the same boat, and there is obviously a core of engaged parents, just wondering why in bound enrollment isn’t higher.

        • Thanks for your question, Anon – there is actually a good deal of public/low-income housing in-boundary which I think is why it’s a unique situation because there are also multi-million dollar homes.

          If you haven’t taken a tour of Garrison, the interior (and playground facilities etc) would answer your question about why the more gentrifying parents haven’t sent their kids there. That, and the 3rd grade test scores are not good. So it’s a chicken-egg situation I think.

          The sad thing about the modernization is that a connector from the 1st to 2nd levels wasn’t included, so the kids will now have to walk around the school to get access to different levels. This includes the special needs kids who may not be physically disabled, etc. I think it’s shameful.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Agreed on all counts. I’d also add that the poor/disadvantaged kids don’t all live in subsidized or public housing. Some may live in houses that are owned by their parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles/friends of parents/friends of uncles/whomever, purchased 20+ years ago for quite possibly less than $50K.

        • Garrison has a special classroom and programs for children who have autism and other developmental disorders. My son with autism and ADHD was offered a spot at Garrison even though we didn’t put it on our list and don’t live in-bounds. So yes, there are a lot of students with special needs.

        • Can we get past this idea that parents are sold on facilities? If that’s the case, explain why parents have clamored to get their children into charters that operate out of spaces that resemble dungeons. Why is there a wait list for Sacred Heart? Their facilities are very sparse, but people are willing to pay to send their children. Facilities don’t matter. People matter. Environment matters. Many parents, regardless of SES, want their child to be in a safe, inclusive environment where education is valued, intellect is celebrated, and everyone is respectful of each other. Many of the DCPS schools simply don’t offer that past a certain point. We’re one of the lucky families who got into a very good charter, and I can absolutely say that if we hadn’t, we would have moved or sent our kids to private. Your lottery odds don’t get better over time at the highly regarded schools because the attrition rates are so low. We’re already planning on private for high school. Yes, I get that we’re very fortunate to both win the lottery and have the means to be picky. But it has NOTHING to do with facilities. And if wanting my child to be among people who value education as much as we do makes me an elitist, well pinkies up, ya’ll.

  • Thus the trend toward Charter Schools, Private Schools, and for some the eventual migration out of the city to neighboring counties.

    I have no answer as to why its hard to commit to Schools? I used the because you can insert DC/PG and various other counties across America.

  • hooville

    “At three years old, he is writing, reading and dancing ballet and hip-hop alongside his bright and eager classmates.”

    After this sentence I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a satire piece about uptight parents or not…

    • In this case the parents must have needed more space for their rising star. A Victorian rowhouse just isn’t big enough to support an in-home dance studio!

  • Although the title of the posting made me think it was going to be about D.C. schools in general, the actual content seems to focus on Garrison and problems with the school’s building andphysical facilities.
    The deteriorating facilities certainly don’t help… but for most parents who decide to move rather than send their kids to a neighborhood school east of the Park, isn’t that decision usually based less on the physical condition of the school and more on test scores, concerns about the quality of learning, etc.?

  • the facilities are really NOT why parents leave a school. Sure its nice to have a new modern facilty but DCPS has spent a hundred million dollars on new or massively renovated schools that barely hit 50% capacity (dunbar,, Brookland Middle, now reopening McFarland Middle, Jefferson Middle is less than 50% capacity). We are also in bound for a school in a “transitioning” neighborhood and we are committed through preschool. the teachers are warm, the classes seem great. But the truth is that the real disparities in academics don’t show up until about 3rd grade. Thats when the rubber meets the road so to speak for most educated or higher income families who have serious expectations about school. By third grade the achievement gap between high and low income and white and black students is probably the widest in the entire country. DC does not do any academic tracking and its just unrealistic to think a teacher can really teach to kids who arent able to read on a 1st grade level in the 3rd grade along with kids who may be accelerrated. I know so many parents who pull the plug at Kindergarten at the latest. Not because they don’t like, but because they see where the road ahead is leading and they need to make plans now as common core is definitely a more challenging curriculum. Same reason, Brent Elem empties out after 4th grade, all the parents who do have option get there kid soemwhere else because Jefferson Middle school is bleak. Would you want to send your kid to school where 85% are below grade level,. So DCPS can make all the shiny new buildings they want too, it doesn’t change the academic climate and challenges in the school. this is really simple but until DCPS acknowledges these challenges, very little will change other than just the natural forces of gentrification taking hold and turning schools around.

    • I get what you are trying to say, but this comes across as pretty elitist.

      “Thats when the rubber meets the road so to speak for most educated or higher income families who have serious expectations about school.”

      • How is it elitist? I don’t have kids, but if I did, why would I put them in classrooms with kids who are far below grade level? This seems like a pretty reasonable approach for a parent. I think people are all on board with public schools until their kids are IN the schools.

        • If you read her quote she says it matters to the most highly educated and wealthy. Which implies it does not matter to everyone else. A good education in a safe learning environment matters to everyone. Not just those who can afford to live in boundaries to a good school.

          • But some parents actually don’t value a good education very much (not that their kids should be punished for that).

          • I think OP meant highly educated and wealthy are the ones able to send their kids elsewhere or move to a different area altogether.

          • Agreed. I don’t think it was an elitist statement and I understand exactly what she meant. Some parents are fine with their kids doing “ok” in school while others really want theirs to excel and go over and beyond the call of duty in trying to educate them.

          • If you’re college-educated, white, and upper middle-class in DC, chances are greater that you expect your kids to test at significantly higher-than-average levels for DCPS, you will make decisions with this in mind, and if they don’t, you will have the ability to bring to bear all sorts of resources to fix this.

            I’m not sure who it helps to not acknowledge that this is the case.

          • +1 to shmoo. Saying that highly educated and higher-income families have serious expectations about school doesn’t imply that they have a monopoly on those expectations — just that they have more ability to move to a better school district if their current school isn’t meeting their expectations.

        • Yep, it’s not elitist- it’s reality. It’s one thing to be a frontiersman in your neighborhood, quite another to play games with your kid’s education. There is a line that just isn’t crossed.

          • Exactly what I said below. I’m not a parent, but I can see why parents are reluctant to send their kids to a school with a lot of struggling students. I went to an underperforming high school and I think I was underprepared for college because of it. I’d gone to decent elementary and middle schools, so I had a good foundation, but I’d never studied for anything or done any schoolwork at home. My study skills were nonexistent and I struggled my freshman year of college amongst kids who were used to working hard and being challenged.

          • The whole “frontiersman” things is an easy trap to fall into if you forget that you’re not the first person to send your kid to the school.
            If you don’t get it, google “Columbusing”.

          • I doubt anonymous thinks he’s the first person sending a kid to the school. What he’s talking about is being among the first higher-income people to move into a lower-income area, or being among the first higher-income parents to send a kid to a low-performing school in a low-income area.

          • It implies that your child will be the first of a kind there. There are already smart kids there, perhaps from lower-middle class backgrounds or straight up poor.
            Why does it matter that your family is richer than most of the others?

          • It doesn’t matter if there are already a few smart kids there, or even a significant number of smart kids there. If there are still a lot of kids who aren’t smart, or worse yet disrupt the class with behavioral problems, then very little learning gets done.

          • It’s possible that there could be smart kids already there… but when a majority of kids aren’t proficient in reading and math, it suggests that anonymous’s kid will have few (if any) academic peers.

          • That’s the fear that a lot of people express, and it may be the reality in some places. But if you actually visit some of these DC schools (even in gentrifying neighborhoods), there’s real learning going on there, and proficient peers.
            Look at the numbers in these schools. 20%-30% is nothing to be proud of, but also not something to be so scared of that you won’t even visit the school.
            FWIW, my kids go to a school with proficiency scores in that range, and they’re learning well.

          • Well, I’m glad there are people like you, Tiger, whose kids will likely bring up the numbers so others will feel more comfortable sending their kids to DC schools.

        • We were going to stay and help to work on schools, then reality hit and you realize you want better for your children. We had the means so we left. Elitist or not, I want the best for my children and have the means to provide that. We moved out of the area all together and moved to a public school district that is one of the best in the country. I started to realize that even schools we thought were ok by DC standards, when you start looking at them compared to others nationally they were not OK by any standards.

          • Honestly, when I first started in DCPS, I was a champion of the system, I really wanted it to succeed and wanted to be a part of that. My kids honestly have flourished in DCPS, and I will shout from the roof tops about the wonderful things DCPS has done for my kids. However, what really hit home for me was when I realized that there were not middle school options for us. I had high hopes when it was announced MacFarland would reopen, but it is only opening as a bi-lingual “program” within Roosevelt for the first few years; this is awesome for the kids already in dual language or who can test into dual language, but does nothing for my oldest and the other “neighborhood” (i.e. mostly lower SES, African American or first generation immigrant kids) kids in our ward. For them, their options remain going to an EC (a system that DCPS is getting away from because they recognize the flaws), CHEC, or playing the lottery and hoping and praying for a decent spot. The truth is, I do think that MacFarland will be a great school. I am extremely confident in the choice of leadership (Mark Sanders – former AP at Powell), and I am very confident that MacFarland will eventually be an awesome MS for Ward 4, for both dual language and comprehensive/neighborhood kids. But in the mean time, the current batch of 4th and 5th graders get left behind. To me, it seems that DCPS doesn’t see the trees for the forest and they are TOO focused on the future.

          • For middle school, I am looking at Washington Latin and Deale. Not sure what other options are out there at the moment. Haven’t looked into it but I guess I need to since I am a few years away. It may end up being private school

          • If you are going with Latin, you need to apply for 5th grade, you are very unlikely to get a spot if you start in 6th. This means your child will not get to finish school with his or her peer group that they started school with. For Deale? Just move now if you aren’t already in-bounds.

          • In bounds for Deale and yes I would seek Latin in the 5th. Deciding between the two but that is indeed the plan.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more! I have a child that has been at Tyler on CapHill since Pre-K, now in 3rd grade. This year has definitely been an eye opener. The facilities are like 5% of the problem in the system. The REAL issues lies in the curriculum lacking structure (Common Core is NOT WORKING), the achievement gaps as you have mentioned, the disparities between the dual-language program kids vs. the general studies children (there is definitely preference and privilege shown to the former), MAJOR disciplinary problems (my daughter comes home everyday with a fight story), etc. I can go on and on but like you said all the bells and whistles in the world will never make up for the dysfunction going on WITHIN the schools.

      Again, also as you stated….The saddest part is the administrations and teaching staffs lack of ownership that these problems exist.

  • How are “unusable athletic fields distracting students and teachers from reaching their full potential” ?

    • Have you heard of the correlation between athletic participation and academic success? Or how about elementary kids having equal access to athletic facilities as students at other schools in the city? What about the kids who get their start playing athletics in elementary school and could go to college with an athletic scholarship? “Unusable athletic fields” may mean the kids at Garrison won’t have those same opportunities and may not be able to reach their full potential.

      • Agreed; there is far more to successful students than academics. Also, kids NEED to burn their energy off. They need to play, they need a chance to be kids. Athletic fields and playgrounds are really so key to Elementary School.

      • Few students have sufficient athletic talent to go to college on an athletic scholarship. (And all too often, colleges make a mockery of the “student” part of the “student-athlete” concept.) DCPS schools’ priority should be their academics, so that students can graduate from high school and have strong enough records to be admitted to college on their academic merits.

        • I understand most students will not go on to receive athletic scholarships and I agree that the focus on academics should trump athletics, but she was commenting about a student being denied their “full potential.” DCPS is stripping away a child’s potential learn/excel/enjoy in exercise and athletics with unusable facilities. Some children’s parents won’t be able to pay for them to play in a weekend rec league, some won’t have the yard space and ability to play sports outside of school, and some won’t have the money to buy the equipment. Sometimes school is the only place for children to get that exposure.

          • I agree whole-heartedly. Also, just to add, do you know what it’s like for a kid to sit all day for 8 hours and then have little or no recess? There is a point at which they hit a wall. Kids NEED activity. They are not little machines just waiting to download information.

          • SouthwestDC

            You don’t NEED a fancy athletic field to have recess, though. My school, as I recall, just had a slab of blacktop (which led to a lot a scraped knees… but it worked).

          • Caroline – so did I! But schools have evolved since we were in school, and the facilities at Garrison should reflect the facilities at other DC public elementary schools. And again, she said “unusable.” It doesn’t really matter whether it’s fancy or not, but I don’t think that’s the problem.

      • HaileUnlikely

        Of course the #1 priority should be on academics, but crumbling buildings, brown water flowing out of water fountains, and dilapidated athletic facilities are like a neon sign telling the students that the city does not care about them, and some research suggests that all of these big neon signs telling kids that “we don’t care about you” exacerbate behavioral issues that can distract from a productive learning environment.

  • Could the neighbor have kept their U St home and entered the school lottery system to find a suitable school?

    • It is really really hard to get into a top preforming school via the lottery. Many of these schools only have less then 5 slots open to out of boundary kids and kids without an already enrolled sibling. Some schools have zero slots open to kids with no preferences (in-boundary or with already enrolled siblings). And most of these schools have waiting lists in to the hundreds.

      • We were #125 on the list at the Inspired Teaching School but were able to get into what I consider a strong performing school so yes it is hard as you indicate

        • What school did your child get into? We didn’t fall that low on the lottery but I’m still worried we’re too far down on the waitlist to get into any of our choices.

  • “Why is it so hard to commit to DC schools?”

    It is hard for many to fully trust DCPS. To be fair to the current Mayor and Chancellor DCPS has a backlog of needed modernizations and they can only be done so fast. Note. My kid’s school is being renovated as she completes her last year so she will never enjoy the upgrades.

    DC is full of educated professionals (‘competitive’ people, and I don’t mean that negatively) and they don’t want to even chance putting their kid at a disadvantage. However if the educated professionals all decided to commit to a school through volunteering, tutoring, donating / fundraising, pressuring DCPS that school could take a huge leap forward. With the resources in the neighborhood around Garrison it could be great, and if Garrison performed REALLY well it would likely mean another 100k plus in equity for the homeowners in the neighborhood.

    The cycle of families having kids, testing the DCPS / Charter lottery, applying to private schools or moving to MoCo continues. Some of the DCPS teachers find themselves in this situation after having children as well. My kid’s teacher (a very good teacher) returned from leave then left for good after having first child all during the school year. People are making tough choices when it comes to educating their children leave then left for good after having first child all during the school year. People are making tough choices when it comes to educating their children

    • “However if the educated professionals all decided to commit to a school through volunteering, tutoring, donating / fundraising, pressuring DCPS that school could take a huge leap forward.”
      What about all the kids who currently have proficiency below grade level — in some cases, way below grade level? Volunteering and tutoring could help, but would they help enough to make a big difference?

  • I think the gentrification of schools happens at a slower pace than the gentrification of neighborhoods. When you gentrify a neighborhood, you’re only putting yourself at risk, plus there’s a potentially big payoff. But no one wants to be the first to put their kid in a school full of at-risk students, and who can blame them? Their kid is going to be held back because so many of their classmates are behind. It’s hard to not feel guilty about jeopardizing your child’s future just so you can live in a cute walkable neighborhood.
    Plus there are aspects of the suburbs– bigger house for the money, less crime, better driving infrastructure– that are alluring to families.

  • it’s endlessly frustrating to see Garrison and its high percentage of at-risk and/or special needs kids get passed over in favor of expenditures that are deemed more important by DC leadership — like the $5M that Murch ES got last week for an underground parking garage. Heaven forbid the the homeowners in that zip code are exposed to extra congestion during drop-off and pick-up times.

    Garrison sits on some very expensive real estate. I fear that the evolving neighborhood feel has a huge role in the city’s apparent decision to half-step on Garrison’s needed upgrades. Today it’s a dilapidated eyesore, but if needed upgrades are held back long enough by the city, there might be no recourse left but to tear the building down and put in condos or a Wegman’s or something else to make the developers swoon. Sorry, kids.

  • It’s a bit misleading to imply that DCPS is disproportionally allocating modernization funds to Upper NW elementary schools like Murch, and away from elementary schools like Garrison in revitalizing areas, when Marie Reed Elementary is in the midst of a $61 million renovation a mere mile from Garrison:


    • But what a difference a mile makes, especially when those neighborhoods are separated by 16th Street.

      • Marie Reed’s boundary runs east of 16th Street at New Hampshire and U, and then along 14th from W to Euclid. It’s not completely west of 16th Street.

    • I get the impression that modernization funds are allocated in proportion to the number of squeaky-wheel parents at any given school who are willing to press their councilmember, the mayor, et al. for funding.
      Perhaps when it comes to squeaky wheels, Murch > Marie Reed > Garrison?

      • Yes, that does appear to be the case. Even though the mayor and council put out objective priority lists. It’s still dominated by squeaky wheels and politics.

      • This is exactly it. As I said below, it is about constantly keeping the pressure on. Even after you get the ear mark, even after you get the money in the budget, even after the renovations have started, you have to stay on it. It is an incredibly frustrating and time consuming effort.

      • Of course that is how funding works in every sector of society

  • Regarding funding – to the Garrison parents, please, organize and directly lobby your council members. Funding is about politics, pure and simple. But even after you get funding, you have to be persistent in ensuring that your renovations are completed; simply getting the budget really means nothing. If your school does not already have a School Improvement Team (SIT) – get one. Work with your administrators, with the Union rep in your school, find a parent with connections – that’s how to get the money.
    As far as why parents leave DCPS? Honestly the answer to this question is varied and more far reaching that facilities.

  • Have you looked at the prioritization being put out by the DC Council Education Committee? Garrison ranked 15th, but is getting funding ahead of schools in the top 5, so you’re hardly in the worst spot.
    Bowser’s whole chest thumping about adding $220M to the school modernization budget covered previous errors in cost estimating, not moving up high priority modernizations.
    As a city, we should be fixing these buildings before wasting money on streetcars or stadiums.

  • gotryit

    I really don’t get why we’re cutting taxes when there are schools (some more urgent than Garrison) that need to be modernized.

  • For those griping about the Murch renovation, you do realize that the school has never been renovated in its 85-year history, right? Or that it’s crumbling and that half the school is in trailers and that that kids eat lunch at their desks because there is no cafeteria, and that some staff have their “offices’ in closets, right? Murch’s renovation was also pushed back multiple times while others around it were renovated. Now its finally happening. No need to crap on other schools or other families to build your case for renovating your school. East of the park doesn’t have a lock on decrepit DCPS school facilities.

    • Anonjmous

      The council ranked all the schools and Murch came it at #9, which is pretty high, but not the highest.
      Of the 8 that ranked higher priority, 2 are going to be down starting next year with Murch (Orr#1, Kimball#6)
      Harris (#3) doesn’t start construction until 2019
      Raymond (#2), Smothers (#7), and Garfield (#8) don’t have construction until 2023 at best
      Capitol Hill Montessori (#4) just has some stabilization money, but no construction in the planning window
      West (#5) doesn’t start construction until 2021

      Many of these schools have had renovations pushed back too. So I wouldn’t crap on Murch, but I’d ask you not to crap on these other schools. Let’s face it – Murch is getting special treatment by getting renovated earlier. This is objective ranking from someone with access to the information. You see Murch, but I doubt you’ve toured Raymond, Orr, or these other schools.

      The right answer would be for the city to put MORE money earlier towards this and towards the highest priority renovations first.

      • I don’t remember any one in the thread above saying Garrison or any of the schools you listed as undeserving of funding. I do remember several class-baiting comments, however – a very DC phenomenon. I for one, would be happy to see my tax dollars go to renovating schools that need it – on both sides of the park, regardless of the income levels of the constituency.

  • Beyond sad for the quality of any child’s education to be based on a lottery.

    • Do you know how the lottery works? It gives people who live in bad school districts (mostly lower-SES folks) the opportunity to attend a better school. It’s not sad that there is a possible chance for these kids to get a good education.

      The quality of the child’s education comes down to the parents’ choices. I realize far too many parents don’t have a choice to move to a “better” neighborhood, but by educating themselves about the lottery process, they have a good chance to get their kid in an environment that might be better suited to their needs. For instance, kids in very poor and dangerous neighborhoods, could send their kids to Garrison, which is a decent school at least for early elementary. It’s a safer environment than is maybe in their neighborhood. Garrison isn’t a charter, but it’s pretty easy to get into. Not sure why more people aren’t choosing it. Could actually have to do with it’s “curb appeal”.

      • “It’s not sad that there is a possible chance for these kids to get a good education.”
        No, it is beyond sad that there is only a “possible” chance for these kids to get a good education, and that that chance is based on getting lucky in a lottery.

  • Heather2

    Academic tracking has some negatives, but it also has a lot of positives. Kids get to learn what they need to know at a pace they can learn–as opposed to having one teacher meet a variety of needs.

    We came to dcps from a blue ribbon public in another state that tracked. Did the highest track skew affluent? Yes, but not entirely. And all students from all tracks did very well on the tests.

  • Words from an older DCPS parent to new (and nervous ) DCPS parents: don’t be afraid to send your kids to local schools with “issues” such as substandard buildings or low test scores. Many of us who trusted our kids to DCPS over the past 50+ years found great teachers and principals and staff at our local public schools. Substandard or inadequate buildings, lack of amenities: we dealt, with them, demanded better (and sometimes got it) and turned the civics or history lessons. YOU are the most important factor in your child’s ultimate success in school and life. The school you choose — DCPS or private school — ultimately will be less important than the learning your child gets from you. You can pay big bucks to ship your child to a private school across town and still end up with bad teachers and issues. If you are an involved, concerned parent your child will be fine and chances are your passion and involvement will help boost your school and help kids from families who have less educational and financial resources. You moved to these neighborhoods; get involved in them and make them yours, school included.

    • What kind of education will your kid get, though? In schools that don’t do tracking, isn’t the class basically stuck at the level of the least advanced students?

      • What do you mean by not tracking? Two of my kids are not in the age group in which they would be tracked by DCPS for published statistics, but they are absolutely “tracked” and evaluated. Three times a year, we have APTT meetings in which the data for all the students is shared (anonymously). Their academic progress is very clear to see. If you are an involved parent, you will be able to follow your individual child’s progress and work with the teachers to reach their individualized goals. But seeing how the classroom is doing helps you to judge if your kid is a one off or achieving within his or her peer group. This data is tracked by the administrators, and good administrators will use it to coach teachers. By third grade, when the “tracking starts,” or when the standardized testing starts, kids are very used to it, it’s not a pressurized thing (or, at least, it shouldn’t be), and they don’t freak out. I personally DO NOT want kids younger than 3rd grade “tracked” because they are simply WAY too young for standardized testing. I would even argue that 3rd grade is too young.

        • Not “tracking” as in keeping track of kids’ scores — “tracking” as in dividing kids into academic “tracks,” like having different groups within a class depending on a kid’s ability in math, reading etc.

          • gotryit

            That’s done even in K. For example, my daughter is reading in small groups with other kids who are already reading. Other kids who are still sounding out letters are in other groups. But it’s kindergarten, so it’s normal to have different developmental stages, and the teachers handle it well.
            I’ve asked about the same for upper grades, and I think it depends a lot on the teachers and the principal – how willing are they to provide differentiation.

          • Gotcha – but they already do this too. Kids are broken out into small groups based on their current levels. It starts in Kindergarten. It’s particularly key to reading advancement. Now, will this help the truly, truly advanced kids to continue advancing on their personal curve? No. But if a kid is truly advanced to the point that they are well above the “excelling” group, then really, what can any public, and in fact a private, school do for them? Kids who are above this level truly need a gifted program, something that DCPS and many other districts in the country do not do anymore.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Although I recognize that the following may not apply to one single student who is head and shoulders above all of his or her classmates or in classrooms where chaos reigns supreme due to a large number of kids with behavioral issues, I’m not completely sold on the programs where the “gifted and talented” students are altogether separated from the entire rest of the student body. My elementary school (in rural North Carolina) had basically a gifted & talented track (very small number of students), a remedial track (predominantly for kids with severe learning disabilities, also a very small number), and then the rest of the student body all lumped together. The kids in the “gifted and talented” track and in the remedial track were selected sometime in first grade (to this day I do not know when or how) and stayed in that track throughout elementary school. I was not selected for it despite outperforming all but 2 or 3 of my classmates on every single test, and I found that being in class with students that took a little longer than I did to get the hang of things helped me, because I spent a lot of time helping my classmates with stuff and explaining it to them, and explaining the material to people who were having trouble understanding it helped me to improve my understanding of it further.

          • Thank you for the link, anon, I genuinely have not heard of this particular term in relation to the concept, though having read the article, I realize that’s exactly what I had when I was in Fairfax County schools as a child, and to a lesser extent when we moved to Maryland. It’s not a bad idea. I think my youngest would definitely benefit from such a curriculum. I do know of one magnet school in Baltimore County that offers classrooms that are based purely on academic ability alone (so mixed age groups). I do not know of any other schools in the area that do this; Maryland still has a gifted and talented program and does 4 tracks of high school levels (AP, Honors, A, B), and I believe VA does the same. DCPS does not do gifted and talented programs in schools, but does have SEM (School-Wide Enrichment Model) at a handful of Elementary schools (Murch being one).

  • northeazy

    As the former NEA General Counsel said in his farewell address “Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas; it is not because of the merit of our positions; it is not because we care about children; and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. The NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power. ”

    So, there you have it. As soon as DCPS stops being a paycheck delivery apparatus for Big Labor and instead becomes a place where children get educate, most problems will not be abated.

    • Is DCPS upper-level and middle-level management also unionized? There are plenty of high-performing public school systems (although probably not high-performing urban school systems) where the teachers are unionized. I get the impression that DCPS’s problems are due more to poor management (how is it that per-student spending is so high, with such poor results?), and to having such a large proportion of students entering the system without much of a foundation (or perhaps much parental support).
      Hence those posters you see telling parents to “Talk, Read, and Sing” to their children… because there are parents who don’t do enough of this, and whose kids enter school already at a disadvantage in verbal ability. Those posters always make me sad, knowing that there are kids whose parents aren’t doing this instinctively. 🙁

  • justinbc

    Is anyone else dumbfounded that it supposedly takes $40 million to modernize a school?

  • Interesting related article in today’s Washington Post (or at least on the website — dunno about the paper version) about the larger phenomenon of parents deciding to buy homes in good school districts, and the advantage that confers:

    • What’s interesting to me is that the article says (regarding D.C. specifically, and neighborhoods with good schools): “School quality is capitalized into housing prices, making those neighborhoods unaffordable to many families”… but it doesn’t explore the comparatively recent D.C. real-estate trend where increasingly we have sky-high prices for condos and houses in east-of-the-Park D.C. neighborhoods that — at least at the moment — still have iffy schools.
      Maybe as neighborhoods become more gentrified, schools will become correspondingly better… but I’m also wondering if we could end up with a situation like in Manhattan, where real estate is really expensive but the neighborhood schools are (from what I understand) still not good.

    • Also this: “Given that school quality is embedded in the high cost of housing in many communities (think Northwest Washington), it’s also logical that households without children would decline to pay a premium for an amenity they don’t plan to use.”
      It’s true that school quality is embedded in high-cost housing… but high-cost housing in the District does not necessarily guarantee good schools.

      • The high cost housing you are seeing is not for families, it’s for DINKS and singles …. high cost housing in DC will NOT equate to better schools, bank on that.

        • Yes. City living is in – and has been for awhile now. There are a lot of people for whom the quality of schools in the neighborhood is not a factor. And there are still plenty of people who do what DC parents were doing when I moved here in 2000 – they move someplace with better schools when their kids hit school age.

    • I think it’s interesting that this would be labeled a phenomenon. It’s not news that homes in good school districts tend to be in higher demand and more expensive.

      • That’s not what the article is about; it’s more about how that makes neighborhoods more income-segregated than they used to be.
        On the other hand… the study was done by a sociologist (as opposed to, say, an economist), and my experience has been that sometimes sociological studies repeat in study form what’s completely obvious.

        • HaileUnlikely

          Hah. My former boss was a sociologist. As a recovering engineer who now basically works as a statistician, it was infuriating.

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